There are two distinct sorts of nostalgia: one that uses big, strong letters, numerous memories, and references, and the other that faithfully recreates college life while using both its positive and negative parts to tell a three-dimensional story. Hridayam by Vineeth Sreenivasan falls smack dab in the heart of this. For everyone who has ever attended an engineering college, this movie will on one hand bring back fond memories. Contrary to 3 Idiots, students who have moved to any of the engineering institutes in the south, especially Chennai, will find the nostalgia’s hyper-specificity appealing. Additionally, it appears like Sreenivasan is attempting to capitalise on the nostalgia of living in the early 2000s by turning it into a trendy fad.
The story follows Arun Neelakandan (Pranav Mohanlal) over the course of more than a decade, and Hridayam follows the clichéd path of exploring life from college to approaching adulthood with as little conflict and as many musical montages as it can do without seeming out of place. Even if the movie is cliched, that is not a negative aspect. Coming-of-age narrative cliches demand a distinct plot that keeps the story cohesive. If not, we have the same brandy in a different bottle.
That’s not to claim the brandy is perfect, either. It simply grew old way too quickly. Putting the connection aside, I believe the screenplay’s organisation is seriously problematic. It’s a nice choice to focus on the developing romance between Arun and Darshana (Darshana Rajendran), but the relationship ends before it reaches the honeymoon stage. Both the cause and the effect are understandable, which forces both of the characters to harbour animosity towards one another. However, things start to go south when the film focuses on Arun’s transformation into the bully senior he consciously attempted to avoid during his college years—a bully who is perpetually angry at the world. It is applicable from a personal perspective that you can get lost in college or that getting everything together requires a lengthy, winding road. Hridayam falters frequently in this area, but at the very least, you can have some semblance of a mirror of reality. The movie chooses to go on by adding a new character, who becomes the Good Samaritan, helping Arun to the correct path. The redemption track, on the other hand, begins off promisingly with Arun’s character having an epiphany after gazing around the flat he is sharing. Again, this distorts reality and chooses the simple solution. The rest of college life and the redemption track are just hurried to the end of the first half.
The second half of the film centres on Arun discovering what comes after college. Sreenivasan takes the leisurely road, both physically and figuratively, as opposed to being narrative-driven. (And yes, I realise that being overly critical of every element of the film would distract from the main issue here.) At its foundation, this is a straightforward coming-of-age movie, but the screenplay’s problems make it drag. There are a few instances of simple story devices, and later, confrontations appear more contrived than authentic, but the film is already 70 minutes long. Despite the criticism of montage-heavy storytelling, I’d be lying if I said the montages weren’t skillfully done. The songs strengthened these arcs and these moments considerably more than the screenplay could have done, blending well with the weak storyline or the ill-defined character arcs.
However, the performances are what keep the film interesting. Arun Neelakandan, played by Pranav Mohanlal, is arguably the most difficult character in the movie. He endows his character with a laid-back appeal that makes us care about him even in the worst situations. Arun and Darshana are given the most attention in the writing, which gives them the most nuanced, three-dimensional personalities throughout the entire film. Darshana, played by Darshana Rajendran, is unquestionably one of the film’s best performances. She portrays a shy, helpless, cunning, and incredibly intelligent woman with flaws. Rajendran had a wide enough canvas to portray all of Darshana’s characteristics, and she did an excellent job. The connection between Arun and Darshana also perfectly encapsulated the mood of their brief college relationship and later friendship.
The character of Nithya is much weaker written than that of Darshana. Because we are witnessing Arun’s life and know that he will meet someone and fall in love with them repeatedly (otherwise, we wouldn’t be seeing a coming-of-age and romance narrative), Nithya’s character isn’t as well written as I would have liked. But Kalyani Priyadarshan is quite endearing and gives the part extra vigour and tenderness, which helps us believe in the chemistry between Nithya and Arun.
The coming-of-age tale Hidayam is propelled by deft marketing and prominently emphasises the nostalgic qualities of growing up. Its shortcomings do not overshadow the aspects of growing up, which it more skillfully captures. However, the nuance is absent and, surprise, the plot is more important than the characters. The songs used to capture the moments in the screenplay are quite successful, even if the runtime lengthens as a result. The montage storytelling is a very familiar and, at times, lazy, approach on storytelling. It looks like a stunning motion picture. Together, the cinematography by Oddukatthil Vishwajith and the music by Hesham Abdul Wahab give Hridayam a heartbreaking appearance and sound that goes well beyond what the script is able to achieve. However, the core performers do a good job of portraying the honesty of the main characters, making Hridayam a watchable one-time film for those wishing to relive their college years. Expecting too much reality is unwise. Instead, keep an eye out for the underpinning simplicity and soul, as its name suggests.
In 2022, Vineeth Sreenivasan will write and direct the Indian romantic drama film Hridayam.